John Gizzi

General Assembly Election Outlook: How Do You Spell "Momentum"? Sometimes, By The Numbers

Over the last two weeks we've had an earthquake, Irene has come and gone, and a massive fire at Great Dismal Swamp (which Irene mostly put out). It's been the earth, wind and fire of terrestrial life. Somewhere in there we've had political tremors and wind and fire storms called primaries. But now that the field is set, what is the outlook for November? Of course, anything can happen and events change the dynamics of all campaigns. But here is where we stand right now: First, this may be the most clear cut legislative election in Virginia history (see AP). By and large, the Republican nominees — even Senate candidates — are adherents to the limited government renaissance. The Democrats, by contrast, are moving further to the left, as evidenced by the clout of its Progressive Caucus (see The Washington Post Virginia Politics Blog).

Second, there is clear momentum on the GOP side and the reversal of circumstances from four years ago is remarkable. Then, Republicans suffering from an unpopular president, were coming off gubernatorial and congressional losses in successive elections, then lost the Virginia Senate in 2007. Democrats had momentum, numerous candidates (which allowed them to play on the GOP's electoral map), favorable districts due to demographic shifts and a sitting governor raising piles of money for them. In practically every respect, the opposite is true this year (see John Gizzi at Human Events), including the money race (see Richmond Times-Dispatch), although the newly redrawn Senate districts can be anyone's guess (some went for Governor Bob McDonnell in 2009, but that was an extraordinary year).

This political environment is more than coincidence or a quirk of history. It has real meaning in that voters don't have a change of heart so soon, especially with a high profile failures coming from the party in power in Washington. It normally takes a few cycles for voters to send a message. But what is reflected in all of these elements is the numbers game and that makes the most compelling case for a possible Republican victory (see this Republican Party of Virginia memo).

In the House of Delegates, the numbers are staggering. Currently, there are 59 Republicans and two independents who caucus with them for a total of 61. Of the 59, 52 are seeking re-election, two are running for the Senate (Dave Nutter and Bill Carrico) and five are retiring, while one of the independents (Lacey Putney) is running and the other (Watkins Abbitt) is retiring.

The Democrats have 39 delegates, but three lost their districts in redistricting to Northern Virginia's population growth. Two of the those are retiring and the other, caucus leader Ward Armstrong, has moved to challenge a Republican incumbent. The Democrats also had two members retire and one run for the Senate (Adam Ebbin). Only 33 are running for re-election.

All together, there are 14 open seats in the House of Delegates: three created by redistricting, three by Democrat retirements, seven by Republicans retirements, and one by an independent retiring. Here's the imposing hurdle for Democrats: Governor McDonnell won 13 of these districts in 2009 and Republicans have candidates in all 13 of those races. Democrats have candidates in 10 of the 14 open seat races. Of the 52 Republican Delegates running for re-election, only nine face Democrat challengers (17 percent). Of the 33 Democrats running for re-election, seven will face Republican challengers (21 percent). Republicans have candidates running in 74 of the 100 House districts. The Democrats have candidates running in only 53 of the 100 districts, virtually assuring GOP maintenance of power. Of the Republican challengers, three are in districts that Governor McDonnell won.

The Senate is much more competitive, but the numbers still appear to trend Republican. The GOP currently holds 18 of the 40 seats. Two seats of those were moved to Northern and Central Virginia during redistricting. One of those affected, Fred Quayle, retired. The other, Bill Stanley, moved into the 20th District to run against Democrat incumbent Roscoe Reynolds. But most of Senator Stanley's old district is in the new 20th. With an additional retirement, Republicans have 15 incumbents running for re-election.

The Democrats have 22 seats in the current Senate with two retiring. There are five open seats, two created by redistricting, two by Democrat retirements, and one by a Republican retirement (William Wampler). Both parties have nominees in all five of the open seat races. Governor McDonnell won three of these districts with at least 64 percent of the vote. Of the 15 Republican Senators running for re-election, only three have Democrat opposition (20 percent).

Of the 20 Democrat senators running for re-election, 16 have Republican challengers (80 percent). Governor McDonnell won 11 of these 16 districts, including three by more than 60 percent. The GOP has candidates running in 36 of the 40 districts. The Democrats have candidates running in only 27 of the 40 districts.

For Republicans to regain the Senate, it needs to re-elect all 16 of its incumbents, the open 40th district seat (which Governor McDonnell won with 75 percent of the vote), the two new seats created by redistricting (Governor McDonnell won both with more than 64 percent), and at least one of the 16 races where it is challenging a Democrat incumbent. That makes it 20-20, with Lt. Governor Bill Bolling the tie-breaking vote. Winning two of the 16 gives the GOP an outright majority.

Only 12 incumbent Republican members of the General Assembly (House or Senate) face a Democrat challenger. Out of the 140 total seats, Republican are running 109 and the Democrats 81 (see more compelling statistics here). Sometimes spelling is done with numbers. In this case, they spell "momentum and enthusiasm" (see Washington Times) and both seem to be with the Republicans. Return here often as we profile individual campaigns throughout the fall.

Primary Thoughts

Now that the dust has settled — not from the earthquake (another aftershock of 4.5 magnitude at 1:00 a.m. with possibly more in the offing) — but from Virginia's General Assembly primary season, some thoughts. First, although my prediction on Monday concerned the general election, it already has taken an embryonic form. It was an exceptional night for conservatives in numerous Republican Senate primaries, yet barely a whisper emanated from the mainstream media about this revolution. Throw in a previously held nomination contest in Hampton Roads as well as some conservatives who were unopposed. it's almost a lock that whether the GOP wins the Senate or not, its caucus, already trending to the right, may become nearly aligned with its House counterparts. But not all media are ignoring this trend or letting it slip them by. John Gizzi at Human Events recognizes it and is one of the few national columnists to trumpet the results.

If the GOP does win control of the Virginia Senate, not only will the caucus have a decidedly different philosophical bent from its past leaders, the likes of Ben Loyola, Jeff Frederick, Dick Black, Bill Carrico and Tom Garrett, among others, joining Mark Obenshain, Steve Martin, Jill Vogel and company, will create a dynamic not ever seen in Virginia history. The possibilities should jump start all ends of the conservative coalition, from social conservatives to limited government advocates, into a turbocharged grassroots effort this fall for an unprecedented opportunity — delivering both chambers of the General Assembly into conservative stewardship.

As for specific highlights: Turnout wasn't great, and there was the earthquake to deal with, but 10 percent turnout was not unexpected. What was shockingly appalling was the 2.5 percent turnout in the Southwestern 21st district. Delegate Dave Nutter took a late gamble by forsaking his safe House seat very late in the process (Roanoke Times), after denying he was interested, and jumped into the Senate race, defeating Tea Party backed Tripp Godsey. He will have to not only gain the Tea Party's enthusiastic backing, but energize a slew of activists to work hard for him to defeat entrenched liberal incumbent John Edwards. In what is still a blue district, Delegate Nutter now has even more work cut out for him.

Speaking of blue districts, now that he's won the 30th district Democrat primary, say hello to Senator Adam Ebbin. More reason than ever to turn the Senate conservative: As left as there is this side of Europe, Mr. Ebbin in the Senate majority will be able to advance every left-wing cause he advocated for in the House, but which met merciful deaths there.

In the hotly contested, newly drawn very red 22nd Senate district, where five Republicans went at it, Louisa County Commonwealth's Attorney Tom Garrett won. Some have asked whether it's a coincidence or irony that the 22nd was the epicenter of Tuesday's earthquake, as hard fought as it was. Bryan Rhode proved good looks, youth and a lot of money can't overcome among GOP voters a perceived slight to then-Attorney General Candidate Ken Cuccinelli (Lynchburg News & Advance).

Meanwhile, the Republican Party of Virginia establishment got crushed by the former state party chairman it ousted. Despite former U.S. Senator George Allen and other establishment Republicans endorsing opponent Tito Munoz, Jeff Frederick won the 36th district easily (Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star). Lesson for the party royalty: Opposing Jeff Frederick typically leads to his success. He is the supremo at channeling establishment opposition into intense grassroots insurgencies that make said opposition look clueless.

Another loser — Bearing Drift. Perhaps the most influential and most read Virginia conservative political blog, and very dear friends, its endorsed candidates in the four highest profile and contested primaries took a beating — five if you consider the fact that it endorsed Rhode and Mark Peake in the 22nd, hedging its bets. The winner: Social and grassroots conservatives. In many races, all candidates had certified conservative bona fides and other factors came into play, notably, experience and electability. The latter taking in many considerations, such as residence and community involvement and name identification in the most populous portions of the district, for example.

What about the Tea Party? A surprise during the filing period was that the expected shoe did not drop on many GOP incumbents. Only one, caucus leader Tommy Norment of the 3rd district, received a challenge. Instead, Tea Party backed candidates (really, the old-line movement/grassroots conservatives) went another route, gunning instead for newly redistricted and open seats. By and large, they were successful.

Jim Gilmore To Lead Free Congress Foundation: Not the Breaking News People Thought, But Good Nonethesame

This is an interesting tidbit: Former Governor Jim Gilmore announced Monday that he had been elected the new president and CEO of the Free Congress Foundation, the influential conservative think tank founded by the legendary conservative leader, strategist and grassroots activist Paul Weyrich (see New York Times), who died last December. Weyrich was one of the architects of the conservative renaissance that eventually brought about the Reagan and Gingrich Revolutions. When the announcement hit my inbox, I was eager to post it. This is big news — a Virginian taking the lead at a conservative hallmark, in the shoes of a true legend (Washington Times). But in his letter, the former governor included a link to a December 10 column by John Gizzi of Human Events in which he explains why he is taking the position and his goals, etc. That was more than two weeks prior to Monday's e-mailed letter. Figuring it was old news, I ignored it. Yet, the announcement still exploded in the media, new and mainstream. There's articles everywhere. Interesting how news can still trail real time, no matter how electronic and digital we become. It just goes to show that good reporting still beats all.

So, we join in the congratulations to former Governor Gilmore in his new position. He is a good, hard working, earnest man. He will have a national platform and a well schooled staff to put forth and advance conservative ideas and solutions to problems America faces in the economy, foreign policy and cultural and social issues, of which Weyrich was a determined traditionalist. In the age of Obama, there can be no shortage of limited government conservatives working in the vineyard.